A deadly drag racing accident in Burke County, Ga., on Sunday evening happened just weeks after a similar incident on the same road sent a man to the hospital.
On Nov. 6, Andre Sheppard, 39, of Waynesboro, landed in the hospital with “injuries to the upper extremity,” after his 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass flipped several times and struck a tree during a drag race along the same stretch of road as Sunday’s fatal accident.
Drag racing is a big problem for the county, according to Burke County sheriff’s Sgt. Dedric Smith.
“There is so much space,” he said. “The county is over 830 square miles. There is a lot of road, and we can’t be everywhere at once.”
The stretch of Seven Oaks Road where the accidents happened is considered a problem area for both the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and Georgia State Patrol.
“We patrol it a lot,” said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Lacienski of the highway patrol. “But they have so many people looking out. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to have a race. By the time we get there, it’s over.”
This is the first racing incident Lacienski can remember in which someone died.
“It is like a 3,000-pound bullet coming down the road,” said Smith. “How many people are going to get hurt?”
Kevin Johnson, 27, of Sardis, Ga., and Keshon Burdette, 15, of Waynesboro, were killed Sunday when a car lost control and struck them around 6 p.m.
One of the car’s drivers, Michael Mathis, 38, of Waynesboro, was sent to Medical College of Georgia Hospital after he had initially left the scene and then was located a short time later.
Mathis’ Chevrolet Nova, which struck Johnson and Burdette, had flipped several times. When they found him, he was conscious and spoke to troopers, according Trooper 1st Class Samuel Price.
Troopers are still searching for the second car that was involved in the race. Officers have a suspect but are not releasing the name until an arrest is made.
One witness told officers there were 30 to 40 people recording the race Sunday. Officers located dropped cellphones at the scene that had pictures and video of both accidents, Price said.
Racers have people who listen to scanners and are on the lookout for police cars, officers said. When they find out a deputy is on the way, they scatter.
Officers were able to get to the area quick enough on Nov. 6 to see the crowd before it dispersed. There were between 100 and 300 people watching.
“Citizens have to take responsibility for their own actions,” Smith said. “They are egging these people on. If people don’t watch, they have no one to play for.”
Right now, drag racing is a misdemeanor offense, and the punishment is usually a fine and some community service.
Sunday’s race, however, will most likely come with felony charges since two people were killed, Smith said.
Georgia State Patrol officials spoke to the Augusta Circuit District Attorney’s office Monday about what charges will be filed. Lacienski said that information will be released soon.